Nobody likes it. So why should we have to endure it? Yes, we know the robotic definition of pain: “the body’s response to physical damage or injury. Pain receptors send signals to your brain to tell it you’re hurt.” Very insightful.
Haven’t you ever wondered what pain is on a more intricate level? Aren’t you concerned with things like why certain people feel pain more strongly than others and how emotional pain is different but interconnected? Or how on earth a chiropractor could snap your joints without you feeling a thing but sleeping wrong can result in agony?
If you’re tired of self-diagnosing with WebMD and reading the same medical jargon over and over, you’ve come to the right place. Continue reading to learn more about what pain is and how you can understand it better.
The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain
On a physical level, there are two categories of pain: acute, and chronic. Acute pain refers to pain that is short-lived while chronic pain refers to long-term pain. Acute pain resolves within an endurable amount of time.
The sensory nerves fire and let your spinal cord know something wrong has happened. Then your spinal cord sends a signal to your brain and it determines the best course of action. Not only that, your brain stores every time pain occurs so you can avoid the chance of re-injury.
Every time you experience pain, your brain searches its database to determine how to respond, whether in tears, a rapid heart rate, increased adrenaline production, and so on.
Chronic pain is different from acute pain. With chronic pain, pain receptors continue to fire after the injury and it is defined as pain that lasts three months or more. For example, with arthritis, your joints stay affected and cause continuous pain. Chronic pain is more difficult to treat.
Why Do Some People Feel Pain More Intensely than Others?
The reason why some people feel pain more intensely than others has been linked to the way your SCN9A gene functions. Variations within this gene not only cause hypersensitivity to pain but also insensitivity to it.
The first studies of pain genetics were of families who lacked pain. Otherwise known as “pure analgesia” there were reports of genetically related families with children who were extremely insensitive to pain.
We lacked the technology to do much with those studies but have since confirmed pain insensitivity results from a small number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the SCN9A gene. SNPs are differences within the genetic code. These differences inhibit the protein channel necessary for sending pain signals.
People with this rare condition can drop dead from a heart attack suddenly without so much as an ouch.
The SCN9A gene also causes hypersensitivity to pain. Primary erythermalgia and paroxysmal extreme pain disorder are two conditions caused by mutations within the SCN9A gene that increases the number of pain signals to the spinal cord.
These genetic conditions are extremely rare and do little to answer more subtle pain differences in the general population. However, gene research is likely the key to unlocking more answers to the question of why some people experience more pain than others.
What Is the Difference Between Emotional Pain and Physical Pain? Are They Interconnected?
While the brain does not process emotional and physical pain identically, research suggests there is substantial overlap. To start, they both activate similar regions of our brain.
Studies found the anterior cingulate cortex and right ventral prefrontal cortex were more active when feeling loss or exclusion. These are in line with physical pain. Another study found the thalamus, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, cerebellum, and parahippocampal gyrus were all interconnected when processing both emotional and physical and emotional pain.
Chronic pain may also be linked to our emotions. A person’s body might have already processed a painful moment but continues to deal with the event on an emotional level. This is due to a lack of resolution and the nervous system might continue to trigger stress hormones. This suggests the connection between physical and emotional pain can go both ways.
If someone feels emotional pain while trying to process physical pain, they might feel prolonged physical pain. Conversely, someone enduring physical pain can experience emotional pain due to the areas of the brain being affected.
This can also explain the reasoning behind why people suffer from psychosomatic disorders. Psychosomatic disorders imply the patient feels physical pain without any cause. The link between emotional and physical pain and how they affect similar parts of the brain might be the explanation.
Did you know: emotional pain can result in decreased IQ? A Case Western Reserve study revealed exposure to rejection led to a 30% drop in reasoning and a 25% drop in IQ.
How Can A Chiropractor Make an Adjustment Without Causing Pain?
Chiropractic adjustments work without pain due to the high velocity and low amplitude thrust of a stuck or misaligned spinal joint or vertebra. Pain receptors in misaligned joints fire because the joint is out of balance. Chiropractic spinal adjustments shift the joint back into place, thus reducing inflammation. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the rapid motion should be precise enough so as not to trigger pain. If it does, you should consider changing chiropractors.
Bottom Line- Why Do We Feel Pain?
Some say pain is weakness leaving the body. Others reduce it to the body’s response to physical dangers or illness. But as you can see, pain is more complex than that. Continued research is needed to truly understand the links between emotional and physical pain, why some feel more than others, and the brain’s specific responses to pain.
One thing is certain: emotional and physical pain are closely interconnected and you should never dismiss someone who tells you they are in pain. Psychosomatic disorders and struggles with anxiety and depression are often overlooked, especially in adolescents. If you know a teen struggling with their pain, consider contacting a residential program for teenagers or an outpatient therapy center and getting them help.